Rolling Paper: Looking at the Current State of Safe Access

The issue of safe access is constantly changing, and could change for the worse. Here's a peek at what's afoot, from Mendocino mountaintops to the halls of Congress.

Keeping tabs on the U.S. medical cannabis movement can be challenging. Sixteen states have now legalized medical marijuana. In 2012, Californians will see another marijuana legalization measure on the ballot, after last year's failed Proposition 19 earned more votes than Meg Whitman (and at a fraction of the price). Yet there are forces at work seeking to abrogate or otherwise halt what has become one of California's biggest growth industries as well as a pharmaceutical alternative for as many as 1.2 million patients, according to California NORML's most recent estimate.

And while briefcase-toting IRS agents have joined Kevlar-clad DEA enforcers in the federal government's continuing efforts to eradicate legal weed, the bogeyman isn't just in Washington, D.C. It's also in the state capitol in Sacramento. “We are a politically vulnerable minority,” David Goldman, facilitator of the San Francisco chapter of Americans for Safe Access, is fond of saying. “We have the sword of Damocles hanging over our necks.” Here's a peek at how thick — and thin — the thread supporting legalized medical marijuana is.

In Sacramento, no job protections for patients, but hemp may become legal
This year's legislative session looked to be the best yet for medical marijuana advocates. Much of the credit goes to the delegation from San Francisco. A bill by state Sen. Mark Leno promised California patients the same employment protections granted by red state Arizona's medical marijuana laws, while another authored by Rep. Tom Ammiano and sponsored by the district attorneys from the pot-producing counties of Mendocino, Humboldt, Lake, and Del Norte would have allowed DAs to charge marijuana cultivation as a misdemeanor instead of solely as a felony — the same kind of discretion prosecutors enjoy with methamphetamine.

Centered as they were on jobs and public safety, the raisons d'etre for many a lawmaker, the bills seemed tailor-made for California's craven political process. Yet the California Chamber of Commerce and the state District Attorneys Association flexed their political muscles, and in a year when the fear of redistricting looms large, Leno and Ammiano delayed their bills until next January, hoping to garner more support. “The state Legislature has once again demonstrated its incompetence when it comes to dealing with prison crowding,” California NORML director Dale Gieringer says. “With California under court order to reduce its prison population, it is indefensible to maintain felony penalties for nonviolent drug offenses.”

So the good has been delayed, but some of the bad still remains. Two bills attacking medical marijuana are still alive in the state Legislature as of press deadline: SB 847, authored by state Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) would prohibit storefront medical cannabis collectives from opening their doors within 600 feet of residences. And there's AB 1300 by Rep. Bob Blumenfeld (D-Van Nuys), which would allow cannabis-unfriendly cities and counties to pass laws stricter than the minimum protections afforded to patients under Proposition 215. Neither is likely to have much impact in San Francisco if they pass — aside from the possibility that we'll live in a sanctuary city for cannabis patients as well as undocumented immigrants.

Finally, it looks as if hemp might be headed to victory. Leno's efforts to make nonpsychoactive hemp legal for California farmers to grow appears headed for passage. SB 676 would change the state's definition of marijuana to exclude industrial hemp, the only commodity that is legal to buy, sell, and use to make other products but illegal to grow. The bill passed the state Senate and is in the Assembly. Its passage would be seen as a major blow to the drug war, at least as it pertains to cannabis in general.

Proposition 19 redux: Get ready for a 2012 legalization measure
Yes, Prop. 19 lost, despite significant financial backing. One reason for its defeat was the contention among medical cannabis activists that some of them felt left out of its creation process. This has led them to push their own measures, even as Prop. 19's redux remains unwritten.

The proposition's backers have formed a new committee, the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform 2012. It includes some of the same Oakland-based faces that helped earn Prop. 19 votes, but with some new additions like David Bronner of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps and an increased labor presence with support from United Food and Commercial Workers. Organizers promise that medical marijuana advocates will have more say in drafting this measure. Other possible ballot measures are the Regulate Marijuana Like Wine one being pushed by South Lake Tahoe activist Steve Kubby, and the Jack Herer Initiative pushed by Santa Cruz–based Michael Jolson, but both lack the fundraising clout of the new Prop. 19 committee,.

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